Did Grunya Sukhareva Discover Autism?
The Short Answer: No
Autism has always been a part of human diversity*.
But various people have taken credit for first describing and categorising us medically.
*Autistic author Temple Grandin suggests that only autistic people have the stamina for repetition and abstract thought necessary for humans to invent stone tools in the stone age.
Between 1938 and 1944 Hans Asperger studied Children with Autistic traits as part of the murderous “T4” Nazi Eugenics programme.
This work was not translated from German and but was eventually found by Lorna Wing in 1980 who invented the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”.
Meanwhile in 1943 Leo Kanner had published a
paper on “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact”. His work defined most understanding of Autism for the 20th century. It included harmful ideas such as behaviourism and “refrigerator moms” which suggested that children could be trained out of being Autistic.
In 1926 Russian Child psychiatrist Grunya
Efimovna Sukhareva also studied Autistic children.
She described their traits in a way which is strikingly similar to the current diagnosis in the DSM5.
The paper was translated into German. Asperger probably had access to it but because Sukhareva was jewish would not have credited her.
Due to political conflict between Russia and “The West” Sukhareva’s work was not translated into English until 1996 (and not widely known until the 2010s).
Despite living through oppressive soviet regimes Sukhareva was a defender of children’s rights.
Sukhareva was well regarded in her field and founded a clinic for children providing occupational therapy such as wood-working and painting to encourage social and motor ability.
Sukhareva described Autism as an innate difference with possible Neurological origins.
She emphasised the strengths and positive characteristics of the children she studied.
All of this work was ahead of it’s time.
If Sukhareva’s work had taken the place of Asperger’s or Kanner’s we could have developed much more compassionate attitudes toward autism much sooner.
We were denied that opportunity by the cruelty and stupidity of neurotypically-dominated 20th century politics.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696677/ (doi: 10.4103/jpn.JPN_46_17)